If you accept the premise we went to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden – and that his earthly remains have been fish food for some months – why are we still there? Is there an argument to be made we are defending our national security? Are we making friends of the Afghan people? Are young Americans being killed regularly for any sane reason? Are we improving life for the indigenous population? Are we winning hearts and minds? If we left today and went back in 10 years, what would be different than what it was 80 years or so ago?
Asking these questions of thoughtful Americans of any political persuasion can bring silence to a crowded room. No one of my personal acquaintance – whose judgement I value – has a ready answer to any of them.
Well, that’s not quite true. The few answers I get most of the time are “I don’t have any idea” or “Can’t think of a reason” or “How do you befriend a population you keep killing” or “We need to finish what we started” or – silence. Just silence.
Except for one friend who shares my own feelings about Afghanistan. “GET THE HELL OUT! NOW!
No one I know has said to me “We are there to WIN.” If someone DID say that, my response would be “Win what?
Afghanistan has become nothing more than a “live” fire training range for our valued military. Many are being killed by “live” fire for purposes I cannot grasp. We are returning to civilian life damaged bodies, damaged minds and many lost souls who are trying to live with the consequences of a war with no end. Thousands of American families are being savaged by loss of a loved one. Or trying to help a member messed up in some way by experiences rational minds cannot accept. Or justify. And that they should not have had to endure.
In 2003, the CIA found Bin Laden. Had him cold. But the President at that time wouldn’t pull the trigger – even saying later that Bin Laden “wasn’t important” and “Frankly, I don’t think about him all that much.”
The next President DID pull the trigger. Which, in my mind means – and you’ll excuse the words – “Mission Accomplished.” If the purpose of going to Afghanistan a decade earlier was to find and liquidate that single terrorist – as we’ve been told many times that it was – what now? Why are we still there?
The old saw “those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” has never been more apt than when applied to Afghanistan. No nation – however well-intentioned or well-armed – has won anything there except thousands of graves and some battle ribbons to attach to a military flagpole. If we bombed the Afghan mountains flat and made a parking lot out of the place, we would still come away beaten. There is no victory to be won. No goal to be reached. No national pride to be salvaged. Theirs or ours.
We can stay in that impenetrable country till Hell freezes over and we’ll not change anything – not accomplish anything – not improve life for anyone beyond what is there this day. Nothing. But – in the process – we will continue to lose priceless lives, damage thousands more young American military minds and bodies, kill more civilians and spend billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions.
Aiding and abetting all this are many members of congress that refuse – absolutely refuse – to acknowledge the reality that wars we’ve fought will never be fought the same way again. Grasping for millions of dollars from defense contractors in their home districts, they refuse to learn from Iraq and Afghanistan what war has become and how most will be fought from here on. We continue to build tanks, aircraft and ships the Army, Air Force and Navy don’t want.
They obstruct and they fight for more unnecessary billions of dollars for unneeded military systems while learning nothing about the need for more counterinsurgency forces, smaller and more utilitarian weapons systems, fewer foot soldiers and more highly trained specialists. Again, even here, Afghanistan has seemingly not taught them anything.
Several terribly unqualified men want to be president starting in January, 2013. None of them are real presidential material and any one of them could inflict great damage on our nation. At least in my view. But if one of them – any one of them – said he’d have us out of Afghanistan 30 days from taking office, he’d get my vote, my dollars and my labor. Gladly.
That’s how badly I want us out.